Nolan targeting €75,000 Connolly’s RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Series Final riches at Punchestown with Sandor Clegane
Mon 24 Apr 2023
Sandor Clegane looks a key player in a red-hot field of 13 horses that have been declared for the €75,000 Connolly’s RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Series Final at Punchestown on Wednesday.
A €20,000 purchase at what is now the Goffs Arkle Sale, in 2020, Paul Nolan’s talented performer split Three Card Brag and Nucky Johnson, who both line up in Wednesday’s final, in one of the 16 qualifying races, the Connolly’s RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Maiden Hurdle at Galway in October. That race illustrated the high quality of individual available at relatively cheaper prices as the series, now in its fifth year, was designed to create opportunities for horses bought for €45,000/€30,000 or less at store sales in Ireland and the UK, thereby giving owners and trainers an opportunity to claim some of the €395,000 in prize money on offer throughout the series. To enter the €75,000 final at the Punchestown Festival, EBF eligible horses must have run in one of the 16 qualifiers and have not won a graded or listed race.
Sandor Clegane followed his debut effort over hurdles with a 12-length triumph in another qualifier, this time at Punchestown, and those two efforts have yielded €15,600 alone. The six-year-old son of Fame And Glory has finished third in two Grade 1 contests in his only two outings since that Punchestown victory, most recently coming home just one and a quarter lengths behind winner Stay Away Fay in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at Cheltenham, making him the highest rated horse of the baker’s dozen on 141.
Little wonder the Nolans are such fans of the series, as articulated by James Nolan, brother of Paul as well as assistant trainer. “It’s a great idea,” said James of the Connolly’s RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Series. “It’s not everyone’s yard is full of very expensive horses so it’s a great incentive to have chances in races. I see even the point-to-point lads like Denis Murphy and Colin Bowe and those guys, if a horse is under a certain price, they would say, ‘And he’s eligible now for an auction maiden,’ and when they win an auction maiden it doesn’t seem to affect the money they can go on and make either because everyone knows that a good horse can cost small money and big money. If a horse was going five grand more, you’re not going to stop if you really want it and have the client to pay but it’s a definite incentive to buy at that bracket and obviously the prize money is brilliant as well.”
Peter Fahey is on the cusp of a remarkable three-in-a-row, having won the last two finals with Surprise Package and Ambitious Fellow. He is represented by Rocco Bay, triumphant in the Connolly’s RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Maiden Hurdle at Limerick last May. Pale Blue Dot represents Denis Hogan, who saddled Funky Dady to win the 2020 final. Terence O’Brien has a tilt at the riches on offer with Ik’s Man, who has been consistent throughout the series and most recently chased home the talented Demandrivingdouvan in Wexford at the end of March.
“The series is a great opportunity for horses that were bought at the sales under the €30,000 or €45,000 mark,” declares O’Brien. “It gives us a chance to be competitive in maiden hurdles all year. The final is another cherry on top if you can qualify for it, to give owners an opportunity to land at the festival on a big day. We’ve won a few of the races before and were placed a good few times. The prize money is very good and it’s a brilliant series for the small trainer to be honest with you. Ik’s Man has had three runs in the series and been placed in a couple. We’ll head to Punchestown. We’ve a good few owners involved in him and I’m sure they’ll all be delighted for a day out. If he just improves another little bit, he’ll hopefully be in the shake-up again.”
Three Card Brag tops the weights with 11-12 and although claiming Sandor Clegane’s scalp earlier in the season, was behind Paul Nolan’s charge at Cheltenham, albeit while still running a fantastic race to be fifth. “It’s a great pot and a great initiative and I love to support it wherever I can,” said trainer Gordon Elliott recently. “It would be nice to win the final at some point. I haven’t done so yet but we’ve had some nice horses come through the series like Gevrey, who was third in the final a few years ago and he was second in the Irish National a couple of weeks ago so it’s a great series.”
Nessa Joyce, Irish EBF Manager, said: “The Connolly’s RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Series has gone from strength to strength in a short period of time, thanks to the support of the many trainers and owners who make it a key target each year. This season 70 different trainers campaigned 119 EBF eligible store-bought horses in 16 qualifying races, with an average auction price of just over €14,000, so there is great anticipation to see who will win the €75,000 final next week. The Irish EBF board would like to thank all the connections for supporting the series and special thanks goes to our sponsorship partners Connolly’s RED MILLS for their continuing generous support.”
Gareth Connolly, CEO Connolly’s RED MILLS, added: “We are proud to sponsor the RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Series for the fifth season and are looking forward to the €75,000 Final at Punchestown next week. This series has provided a platform for horses in the that middle segment of the market to compete for good prize money, with each of the qualifying races worth €20,000, thus supporting the owners and trainer who take part in the series.
“The series has contributed greatly to the stimulation of the middle market, and the stats show how it has promoted healthy competition, fostering growth within the industry. As a company dedicated to the wellbeing and nutrition of horses, we recognise the importance of investing in events like this and to promote the industry that supports our business all year round. We want to thank the team at the Irish EBF and Punchestown for being such great partners and thank also all the trainers and owners who have run horses in the series since it was launched in 2019.”